Declare Your Independence from Fossil Fuels at Home this July
Updated: Jul 2, 2022
How to get renewable energy wherever you live in the U.S.
It’s July and independence time in the United States. How are you celebrating freedom?
One way I highly recommend is to declare freedom from fossil fuels. If you haven’t already, it’s time to opt for renewable energy at home. Currently, only about 20% of energy use in the U.S. is from renewable sources. By switching to clean energy, you will help the world reduce global warming, contribute to President Biden’s goal of carbon-free electricity for the U.S. by 2035, and save money in the process. And you don’t need to put solar panels on your roof to do it.
I’ve been buying renewable energy for at least a decade. I live in a wooded area and when I contacted a company about installing solar panels on my roof, I was told it didn’t get enough sun. So, then I researched other green energy programs in my area and eventually signed up for 100% wind power through my utility. Last year, when I learned that community solar was more available and less expensive, I signed up for a local project and canceled my subscription with the wind program. Now, every month I get a credit on my electric bill for the solar energy my share of the community solar project generates. Then I get a bill from the solar company equal to the credit minus a 10% discount. (note: some states are working to simplify the process and combine the bills to make it easier for consumers). So, I am helping to generate renewable energy and it costs me less than fossil fuel generated electricity. And to top it off, my electric car now runs on sunshine!
Why don’t you join me?
In the United States, there are multiple ways to get renewable energy easily (sourced from the sun, wind, or water) even if you don’t own your own home. You can:
1. Sign up through your local electric company,
2. Buy renewable energy credits,
3. Join a community-based solar energy project, or
4. Install a small renewable energy system at home.
(Note: although I am providing information on how to get renewable energy in the U.S., many of these methods are available in other countries. Check your local government to find renewable energy resources where you live).
1. Getting Renewable Energy from your Local Electric Company
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “at least 50% of customers have the option to purchase renewable electricity directly from their power supplier.” The first step is to see how much renewables are a part of the energy mix of your utility and if they have made any commitments to 100% renewables by a certain date. Various states require utilities to have renewables in the mix and the percentages are growing. Check with your utility to see if they publish the energy generation mix on their website or can send you the information. If you can’t find the mix information from your utility, use the tool from either the Environmental Protection Agency or World Resources Institute. (Note: the data there may be a year or two old). If your utility has a high percentage of, or is moving towards 100%, renewables, stick with your current electric company.
If not, then check to see if you live in a state that has a deregulated energy market (see the map here to find out if your state is deregulated). If you do, then you can switch to a renewable energy (solar, wind, or hydro) supplier. Your local utility will still charge you for delivering the energy provided by the clean energy supply you choose, but your energy will come from a green supplier.
It’s easy to switch energy suppliers. Check out your local utility’s website and/or your state’s energy commission to see what your options are for renewable energy suppliers in your locale. The American Coalition of Competitive Energy Suppliers also has state-by-state information with links to utilities and agencies. Choose Energy provides another tool, where you can input your zip code and get information on electric suppliers. Depending on where you live, you can select plans that source wind and solar and sometimes hydro-electric, or geothermal.
When choosing a supplier, Constellation, a leading clean energy supplier, suggests checking to ensure the supplier is licensed in and serves your state, works with your utility company, has a good customer service history, and has a competitive rate. You will want to review your existing contract and understand what you currently pay per KWh. Energybot, a website that helps customers compare electric prices and suppliers, has a list of 10 questions to ask your new energy supplier that you may want to check out. You may also want to check out Electrictyrates.com, which provides a list of the best 2022 electricity providers. If you live in the Northeast U.S., check out Clean Choice Energy.
2. Purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs)
If you live in a state that isn’t moving towards 100% renewable energy, doesn’t allow you to choose your electricity supplier, and/or you cannot install a small renewable energy system on your home, then you can purchase renewable energy certificates separate from your current electric service.
The EPA describes RECs as market-based tools that allow for the trading of property rights of renewable energy generation. Essentially, when you buy a REC, you are paying for renewable energy created by a distant supplier to be delivered to the shared electric grid, even though it may not be going to your specific electric provider. In buying a REC, you are helping increase the amount of renewable energy entering the national supply.
If you want to buy RECs, Energysage.com recommends first checking to see “if your utility is one of the 850 utilities that offer a green power program.” If they are, then you can purchase RECs through your electric company. They will probably charge a small premium (1–2 cents per KWh) over their regular rate.
You can also buy RECs from outside suppliers, of which there are many. Green-e, a third-party renewable energy certification company, provides a list of all their certified REC companies. The list is searchable by state. However, the Energy Department clarifies that “consumers buying RECs are not limited from where they buy their RECs in the U.S. and can shop for RECs with lower prices.” Buycleanenergy.org also provides a list of wind REC suppliers for residential customers. Several of the suppliers I like the best include Native Energy, Terra Pass, and MyClimate.
3. Joining a Community Solar Project
If neither of the above two options work for you, or if you rent your home or have too much shade for rooftop solar, then consider joining a Community Solar Project in your neighborhood. These are large solar arrays located offsite somewhere in your community and hooked up to the electric grid and local utility. Customers either buy or lease a portion of the project equal to their annual electricity usage, and receive credit on their utility bill, like homeowners who have rooftop panels.
Many community solar companies have programs for those who have moderate or low incomes, so everyone can take part, regardless of income. Some occupants of apartment and condo buildings also organize and work with their neighbors to have an on-site multifamily solar array installed on the rooftop of the building. Check out the National Community Solar Partnership which is working to make affordable community solar available to everyone by 2025.
The Energy Department says that community solar is rapidly growing in the U.S. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which tracks community solar installations, says that 22 states plus the District of Columbia, have policies that support community solar and that currently community solar projects exist in 40 states. The first step in signing up for community solar is to see if there are any projects near you that are open for subscribers. Energysage.com has a long list of community solar projects run by companies such as Neighborhood Sun, Common Energy, Community Energy, Ampion Energy, and US Solar, to name a few. You can search their list by zip code to find one in your area.
4. Installing Renewable Energy at Home
If you own your own home, then it is possible to install various types of renewable energy sources at home. You can choose to stay connected to the electric grid or use battery storage to be totally self-sufficient and off the grid. While it is possible to install small wind turbines at home, you need more land and reasonable wind to make this workable. Geothermal systems also require land and can be quite expensive. So, I recommend you explore a small solar electric system first. They are the most popular and least expensive form of residential renewable energy.
If you are interested in solar at home, it will require some research to find out if your home is suitable for solar, and the best way to go about installing it. There are too many steps and variables involved for me to describe here, so I recommend you first learn more about it by reading the Department of Energy’s Homeowner’s Guide to Going Solar. They have a lot of information that helps explain and simplify the process. They also provide information on incentives and tax breaks. The Solar Energy Industries Association also has a Residential Consumer Guide to Solar Power and Energysage.com and Save on Energy also have primers on solar.
Once you are familiar with what it takes to go solar, I suggest contacting a company like SMUD, or Solar-Estimate, that can get help you calculate costs, savings, payback periods, and get estimates from multiple solar installers in your area. Top Solar Companies provides recommendations on the top solar companies in your area. You might want to ask about rooftop solar panels, ground-mounted panels, and solar shingles. More companies, like Tesla and Sun Tegra, sell solar shingles that integrate into your current roofline.
If you are not yet ready to get a whole house solar system, then consider installing solar hot water heating or solar air conditioning. The Department of Energy says using solar to heat the water in your home can be less expensive than using gas or electricity. It is also easier to install than solar panels. DOE also provides information here on how solar water heating systems work and what you need to know to move ahead with installation. This article from Treehugger helps you assess if solar air conditioning is right for you and this article by Eco Watch explains solar air conditioning and provides recommendations on the best systems.
One more note: if you are still heating your home with oil or gas, then consider replacing that source with a heat pump. Heat pumps are more sustainable and work in all temperatures. You can contact your local HVAC service for an estimate.
Which of these methods will you choose to break free from fossil fuels this July?
I wish you well with all your climate action. It's going to take all of us to turn this climate crisis around, especially with a Supreme Court that just made governmental climate action more difficult.
I wish you well with all your climate action. It takes all of us to turn this climate crisis around.